St. Matthew’s Sermon 11-24-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 11-24-2019

Let Go

Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Next week we begin our Advent season, the special time of year when we prepare ourselves to receive anew the greatest gift ever given and a time to remind ourselves of the four attributes of that wonderful gift; Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy.

With that on our minds it might seem odd that today’s Gospel reading takes us to the scene of the end of Christ’s earthly life as he dies a horrible death on the cross; an innocent and righteous man made equal to the criminals on either side of him.

Short of the resurrection, it’s the complete opposite end of the life and ministry of our Lord, Jesus.

Having sat with those thoughts for a while, however, I began to realize that this is not cold water thrown onto a joyous occasion but a powerful primer to ignite our souls so as to not leave us to enter the Advent season half-heartedly, but blasting us in with the full force of the Gospel!

 

So here we are on the hill ominously called the skull where Roman occupiers make an exhibition of torturously putting trouble makers to death in the most gruesome way attempting to dissuade any others who might continue to cause unrest and rebellion.

It’s not a hopeful place.

We hear the leaders of Jerusalem, who conspired with their enemy to bring this event about, scoffing this self proclaimed “king”. The Roman soldiers, charged with the dirty work of nailing men to crosses and lifting them up high for all to see, join in and mock him.

There is no peace here.

We see the sign over Jesus’ head that not only mocks him, but the Jewish population as well; basically telling them ‘some king you have here’.

There is no love to be found.

And we even hear one of the men, suffering the same fate, being wicked to the very end as he derides this failure of a king.

By no means do we find joy in this.

But then, being close enough to hear the details of the exchange, we hear the other one speak, the confessed criminal, and he is the only one, among all those gathered, that turns from the mob-mentality to Jesus’ defense.

Now we sense that this is where we need to pay close attention. We step closer to not miss a single word. And we hear, for the first time in this scene of mockery and shaming and degradation, someone address the Lord by name…and acknowledge him earnestly as a king! “Jesus”, he says, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And suddenly there is light added to this dark, dreadful scene.

Notice: though the man did say he was justly condemned for what he did there are no words of repentance, no request for forgiveness and yet Jesus responds… and does so favorably… and with his words even a justly condemned criminal receives hope with the promise of joining Christ in paradise, the realm of eternal bliss in God’s presence where righteous people go after death. In that he finds Peace in his anguished end… he finds that the love of God extends even to a low-life like himself, and this, no doubt, brings joy to him and Christ, and God and the Angels in heaven and the Saints on earth!

 

The world you and I live in may not be as horrid as that of Roman occupied Judea but elsewhere on this planet there are still barbaric public executions carried out; there’s still attempts made by governing powers to silence resistance; and, even here in our own nation, we see all too frequently degradation, death, and destruction of minorities in thought, race, sexual identity, religion, and even political persuasion (just to name a few).

And, like the man beside Jesus we may feel that we are doomed by our complicity or, at least, our complacency.

Yet through those words of Christ on the cross we too find hope for our immediate and long term future; we can find peace amid the chaos of life in a troubled world; we are assured of God’s love for us; and in that we find joy in times and places where it would seem none could exist!

That is the message of the Gospel from beginning to end and back to the beginning again; the message that reminds us to let go of our fears and our internalized torment; to “Be still, and know that [he is] God!

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Amen

 

Jeremiah 23:1-6
23:1 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.
23:2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD.
23:3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.
23:4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.
23:5 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
23:6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

 

Psalm 46
46:1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
46:2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
46:3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
46:4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
46:5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
46:6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
46:7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
46:8 Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
46:9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
46:11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

 

Colossians 1:11-20
1:11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully
1:12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
1:13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,
1:14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
1:16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him.
1:17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
1:18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
1:20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Luke 23:33-43
23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.
23:35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”
23:36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,
23:37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
23:38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
23:40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
23:41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”
23:42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
23:43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”